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The unwritten rules of sending Christmas cards

We always write ‘we really must see each other next year’ and we mean it, although we won’t see each other ever again

December 5, 2019

9:21 AM

5 December 2019

9:21 AM

No one sends Christmas cards any more. Except that I do, and you might, and a few other people do too. But overall, cards have become so expensive, time-consuming and, let’s admit it, unfashionable that many people have abandoned them with some relief. Some of them rather piously tell us the money thus saved is now going to charity. Others, even more piously, say they are no longer sending cards because of the waste of planetary resources, and they now prefer more ecologically sustainable methods of celebrating Christmas. These are often the people who then fly to New York to go Christmas shopping.

I love cards. I like buying them, I like writing them, and most of all, I like receiving them. The first cards usually arrive in the first week of December, months after the first Christmas ads and several weeks after we have first heard Mariah Carey singing ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ in a mall.

These early cards come from the most brutally organized of your friends, who have lists of Things To Do which they don’t need because they have already done them all. But their cards perform a vital function, because they give the rest of us permission to start feeling Christmassy, and as a perennial last-minute shopper, wrapper and giver, I regard them as a timely boot up the backside to actually do something for once.


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Most of us cardsters keep two lists: one of all the people we sent cards to last year, and a second of all those who sent them back. The lists are almost identical. I allow everyone a year off, because disasters often happen near Christmas and circumstance may derail you. But if you don’t send me a card for two years running, you’re off the list to be sent one the year after.

As a result the list looks rather odd. My brother is nowhere to be found, but several people I haven’t seen for 15 years are there, because we always exchange cards. We always write ‘we really must see each other next year’ and we mean it, although we won’t see each other ever again. One year a card won’t arrive from those people, because they will have died of old age.

There are certain rules to be observed. It’s possible to exchange cards when you see each other, but it’s immeasurably better if you say ‘I could have given you a card now but I posted it this afternoon’, whether you did or not. If someone gives you a card, it’s not acceptable to open it there and then. Much more sensible to put it in your bag or pocket, forget about it and find it the following June.

If you put ‘To David, Anna and family’, you are telling David and Anna that you can’t remember the names of their children. Only when you have known a friend for 25 years are you permitted to say ‘with much love from’. Crossing out ‘Happy birthday’ and writing ‘Merry Christmas’ on a birthday card suggests desperation or panic. If you don’t get enough cards and feel sad about it, you’re not allowed to send yourself cards in forged handwriting from non-existent friends, unless you use full postage.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s UK magazine. Subscribe to the US edition here.


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